In the shadows: memories of childhood, memories of identity

For some strange reason, I was always drawn to the mysterious topic of film in my country, Croatia, and the neighbouring countries whose story of different cultures intertwined at some point in history. I used to watch a lot of films while I was growing up, but I have never actually considered them as being that interesting, or multi-layered, with a hidden message crawling under the main storyline of a film, probably because of the themes that explored the problems of social significance through a representation of violence, for example, or comedies that came out after the war period in Croatia, dealing with memories and consequences of it, and the fact that I was too young at the time. But that changed rapidly. I grew up, and started to see the world around me in a different way, while struggling with the grim reality of a young person with so many hopes and dreams to be cut off and put down by the political and social situation in the country I lived in. More and more I realized that the topic of identity and the crisis of the same is becoming a vital part of my research, as well as my own existence. A lot of people have asked me why film then, and horror film of all genres, to explore identity, and the more people asked me that, the more I thought that I chose precisely the right medium for my research.

Mind you, the information is scarce, especially if you do not know where and how to look, but if you put your mind into it, like I did, and am still doing, one can find wells of information hidden deep inside the underground corners of the Internet and the archival traces among old books that lie in the shadowy corners of libraries and attics, long forgotten by the world. Film has always been present in Eastern Europe, and a lot of countries truly have a fascinating history when it comes to film industry. Albania has been so restricted by its political system that only in recent years it started restoring the old films that were made on those grounds, usually for the purpose of propaganda of the ruling systems, Turkey was influenced by the Western representation of the image of the vampire, while Greece went completely sci-fi in making films about giant traditional food dishes attacking the country, in order to comment on the country’s relationship and the view of the media, for example. Serbia boldly thrust its fingers in the exploitation genre in order to show the rest of the world how the politics affects society, while Croatia shyly flirted with the Western influence, letting everyone know that finances are not necessarily needed in order to make a good film. The common denominator in all of the examples I’ve mentioned above is horror, as a perfect genre that does not abide by censorship rules and therefore is a great way for filmmakers to offer their own commentary and critique of the place they live in. So, why horror? “Looking cross culturally at horror, you can see a lot of indications at what different cultures fear, what bothers them, even their belief systems and how they approach life and death.” (see the trailer of this very ambitious documentary : Why Horror?: A Feature Documentary, official trailer, Lindsay, Kleiman, 2014)

Horror as a genre provides a forum of a sort dealing with the topics of gender, morality, identity, among other things. It is a fertile ground for describing and explaining the different social and cultural differences and circumstances of nations, opening the door to the uncharted world of human nature, forming the identity of the Other at the same time. My research so far has led me to some of the darkest corners of the world represented through literature, film, and theory. Every part of that world has shed a light on some prevalent issue mainly connected to the problems of identity and its importance in a world where the boundary between technology and humanity is often blurred, and where people become passers-by rather than fully integrated members of society.

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In this reminiscent first post, I have only scratched the surface of what I would like to discuss further, in order to prepare the grounds for my next post that will talk about the closer connection of identity in the Balkans and horror genre, as well as about the development of film, primarily in Croatia and Serbia. Following the research presented in the book In Contrast: Croatian Film Today (Vidan, Crnković, 2012), which is compiled of various articles, interviews with film makers and critical views on some of the most significant films of the area, the connection between the countries of the former Republic of Yugoslavia becomes clear and obvious, and a rather strong account of events mirrored through the medium of film.